Family legacy begins at the House of Harley-Davidson
Dia and Barry Matteson are seen at the House of Harley-Davidson in Anchorage, along with the unofficial company mascot, Mister French, a four-year-old French bulldog. Dia Matteson, 25, is taking over the three-dealership company from her father and is the youngest female franchisee in Harley-Davidson history.
It’s not every day that an Alaskan business sets a national precedent, but a father-to-daughter transition has done just that.
Dia Matteson has become the new president and director of Motorcycle Times Inc., which owns and operates the Harley-Davidson dealerships in Anchorage, Soldotna and Wasilla. At 25 years old, she is now Harley’s youngest female dealer.
Dia Matteson took over the business after her father, Barry Matteson, retired on June 14 after holding the region’s Harley franchise for 37 years.
“It’s a great feeling to have a transition like this and keep it in the family,” Barry Matteson said. “I was just fortunate to have a family member who’s so enthusiastic for it.”
Dia Matteson certainly is enthusiastic. She’s inherited her father’s passion for bikes and worked in the store since her teenage years. She’s covered most areas of the business from folding T-shirts to working in sales and service. She’s served as the company’s general manager since 2008.
“This is all I’ve ever really known. I never really worked anywhere else,” she said. “Even in high school I know this is what I wanted to get into.”
Barry Matteson said that out of about 650 franchise dealers in America, there are probably less than 20 sole franchises with a woman at the helm.
Dia Matteson’s mark is fitting for the Last Frontier. Alaska has more female riders per capita than any other state, and she has been riding since she was 16. Alaska also has more motorcycles per capita than any other state.
She now owns a 2009 Harley Street Glide and a 2009 Buell Lightning. Her father has three bikes for riding and others that are part of his collection.
Her enthusiasm for bikes wasn’t enough for her to run the business. She started studying business at Anderson University in South Carolina and then moved back and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She just finished her MBA program at UAA this spring.
Dia Matteson said doing something you like for your work is essential. Not only is she into the bikes themselves, but she enjoys working the business side of it and her education will really come in handy with that aspect.
Dia Matteson said the business has built its reputation and attracted customers from al over and so it’s got a good thing going already. She does have a few minor process improvements in mind, and her father is all for it.
“It’s nice to have some fresh eyes in management things,” Barry Matteson said.
Even though he’s no longer the owner, Barry Matteson will still take care of certain special duties for the company as needed.
Motorcycles are a very seasonal business in Alaska, which is especially true for Motorcycle Times because the company deals only in bikes and not winter vehicles.
“We get 80 percent of our business in five months of the year,” Barry Matteson said.
Barry Matteson said tourists come from all over, and not just for the bikes. People love merchandise with the Harley logo combined with Alaska.
The tourism appeal helped create Harley Alaska Motorcycle Adventures about eight years ago. People fly here and ride their new bikes home. Barry Matteson said people love riding through the Alaska landscape. They just have to get here first.
“You need a sense of adventure to launch something like this,” Dia Matteson said.
She said it’s exciting to be involved in a place where so many people want to do business, as well as being a big part of community.
Barry Matteson started out in the motorcycle business in 1970 when he was working as a heavy equipment mechanic and insulator for the Trans-Alaska pipeline and his 650cc Triumph was stolen.
It was eventually recovered but unsalvageable. Already a motorcycle enthusiast, Barry Matteson, who said bikes were “more of a passion than a hobby,” decided to learn how to turn wreckage into a chopper.
The difficult hunt for the necessary parts led him to dealer inquiry ads in cycle magazines. In 1971, he sold the Triumph for $250 and began Barry’s Custom Cycle, which was located in a one-car garage in Muldoon.
The local Harley-Davidson dealer decided to give up the business that same year. Now that he was officially in the industry, he pursued the franchise until he got it in 1975. The result was the House of Harley-Davidson.
The Harley dealership has changed location a few times throughout the years. It quickly moved to Spenard Road next to Chilkoot Charlie’s, then to a small shop on Chugach Way in 1977. It moved to its present location on Spenard Road in 1981.
The dealership itself has grown both physically and business-wise, which helped Dia Matteson get more involved at a young age. Barry Matteson purchased the two adjoining lots in 1995.
More adjacent property was bought in 1999 and converted into a 15,000-square foot expansion that opened in June 2002. Barry Matteson said the original building was 9,000 square feet and is now 27,000 square feet.
The third floor was converted into a clothing and accessories store in 1996. The family also built a bed and breakfast in the building called Hog Heaven in 1994. Those sections are now part of the Harley store.
These expansions gave Dia Matteson her start and she began working at age 14 selling clothes.
“Throughout the years, I continued to work in every different departments and learned all the different parts,” she said.
She continued to work in sales and service while in college.
The business started with three employees and just the Anchorage dealership. Motorcycle Times Inc. now has 47 employees at all three stores.
The company also supports numerous community projects and charities, including work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Dare to Care and Boys and Girls Clubs. There are special military appreciation days and special military purchase plans. There are also special programs to teach women to ride, such as Beauty and the Bike and the Miss Harley-Davidson competition.
The company is active in motorcycle training. Barry Matteson helped start the Alaskan Bikers Advocating Training and Education in 1982.
There are training facilities in all three cities run by Motorcycle Times. The company is also certified for motorcycle license testing.
Motorcycle Times Inc. is the only Harley dealer for Southcentral. Alaska’s other Harley franchisee covers the Interior and the Southeast.
House of Harley-Davidson comes with its own fixtures that customers show up just to see, such as the show bikes or the chrome bear statue outside.
Dia Matteson brings her own additional fixture: her four-year-old French bulldog Mister French.
Mister French has become the impromptu store mascot and goes to work with his owner on most days when she arrives by car rather than by bike. Customers are even bringing their own dog groupies dubbed “Frenchies” just to see him.
The family aspect of the business doesn’t end with Dia. Barry Matteson also has three grandchildren who work for the company.
Jonathon Grass can be reached at email@example.com.